Thursday, May 2, 2013

MAINSTREAM EXTINCTION III: Mastodon - Blood Mountain


So if Remission got Mastodon noticed and Leviathan made them popular, I'd say Blood Mountain solidified them as a premier mainstream metal band.  Around this time, they were about as on top of the world as they could imagine.  They managed to jump ship from Relapse (one of the biggest and most recognizable labels in metal) to Warner Bros, which is most certainly not known for their impressive roster of metal bands.  So they went from a major label to a major label, and after ripping shit up on giant nationwide tours like Ozzfest, damn near everybody knew who they were at this point.

Prime ingredients for a sellout, naturally.

Blood Mountain says "Fuck that" and proceeds to hammer a whopping nine excellent tracks in a row into your skull before any real misstep.  All that fine tuning that took place on Leviathan was perfected on this 2006 release, to the point where I'm not even sure what to consider it from a musical standpoint.  I was never comfortable with referring to Mastodon as a sludge band, since to me, sludge is the stuff like Grief or Eyehategod, clearly worlds apart from our media darlings here, but at the very least I could understand why that tag got tacked on to them early on.  But here?  It's gone.  They're like mid-era Death where I guess they could be called prog metal if you wanted to call them that, but they weren't really all the way there.  I mean, there's still a huge High on Fire groove going on here, plus whatever other stoner and hardcore influences, but for the most part they've just kind of become their own nebulous entity at this point.  In fact, mid-late-era Death is actually a pretty decent comparison at times when you think about how frequent the harmonized leads play a central role in the music.  Almost every track is crammed full of minor tapping melodies and harmonized runs, very similar to what Chuck fell just a little bit too much in love with around the Individual Thought Patterns era.  And of course, Kali is still the drummer, so there are still an abundance of skin pounding theatrics.

I'll admit, I was being slightly facetious when I said that we get nine tracks in a row before the album ever stumbles, as "Sleeping Giant" is merely a shorter version of those long stoner jams I disliked so much on Remission, but it manages to keep pace with the rest of the album and doesn't overstay its welcome.  It ends up being a neat little idea as opposed to a flow breaking intrusion, so I can't really stay mad at it.  In fact, the album as a whole actually contains a lot of singular experimental ideas that I'd normally despise, but mostly work out pretty well, like the trippy jam of "Sleeping Giant", the weird talkbox insanity in "Bladecatcher", and most obviously that stupid fucking Tron voice that Cynic used so much on "Circle of Cysquatch".  Oh man that will never sound cool.  Seriously, somebody needs to sit on some council that reviews every single recorded album before it's released, and if they hear the Tron voice they should give the bands a light slap on the bottom with a fucking sledgehammer. The last quarter of the album suffers a bit too from being much more laid back than the rest of the album, not to mention a frankly bizarre vocal performance by the Mars Volta guy in "Siberian Divide".  Plus "Pendulous Skin" has that fucking stupid thing that bands do where they tack a bunch of silence on to the end of the album just to stick in some little joke at the end.  Man that shit can fuck itself with dynamite.  It's normally pretty easy to ignore but it's so bloody pointless that I can't help but get upset with it.

Those quibbles aside, everything else about the album is great.  There are an abundance of guitar solos (at least in comparison to their early work) and they're all tasteful and well done, the riffs are among the the most infectious they'd ever write, and the songwriting in general is just leaps and bounds ahead of where they were before.  I mean, nothing was written poorly on the previous album, but here it's written superbly.  Every track flows beautifully from one section to another, never feeling like a haphazard mess despite each track containing so many different ideas.  The overwhelming heaviness is mostly gone, replaced instead with a very infectious and aggressive, yet still fairly poppy mentality.  Everything here can pretty safely be considered inoffensive while still clearly being hard, heavy, and aggressive, and it's rare that a metal band can manage to strike such a remarkable balance between legitimacy and accessibility.  Mastodon here nails it, with the kinda-progressive-kinda-stoner-not-really-sure style lashing out both extreme melody, extreme aggression, and weirdly effective (for a change) psyched out trippy parts, though they're still the weakest link of the album.  The neat style of riffing that Mastodon had always used but never really established as their own finally comes to life here, coming off as a high energy mix of High on Fire and Between the Buried and Me.  "The Wolf is Loose" pretty much sums up the entire album in a nutshell, with it's blisteringly high octane pace, ascending bridges, and vocals split pretty evenly between the manic shouts of the past and the Mudvayne voice of the future.  The album on the whole seems to use that goddamn Mudvayne voice most of the time, but at this point it's still firmly in the territory of Mastodon, and doesn't sound as silly as it could.

Apart from that beast of an opener, there is the "hit single" in "Colony of Birchmen", which is a great, midpaced melodic number with a very catchy main riff and instantly memorable chorus.  It's moments like this that foreshadow the more melodic and accessible direction Mastodon was pointing towards, and yet it showed how great they could potentially be with such a mindset.  Then there are tracks like "Capillarian Crest", which show case a more progressive, aggressive style, rife with tapping leads and frantic melodies.  Again, it showed that they were pretty good at most of the styles they toyed around with, even though they were mainly just reaching to other areas for inspiration in their own defined sound, as opposed to trying desperately to appeal to everybody.  Despite it's weirdness, my favorite track my actually be the instrumental "Bladecatcher".  It flows in a very creative fashion from each disparate section to the next, and the fast part with the weird whammy-ing talkbox strangeness just manages to work masterfully.  I wish I could explain how so many different, noodly sections end up sounding so brilliant to me, a guy who generally can't stand noodly prog, but Mastodon somehow manages to master it by basing the music instead around an accessible stoner/prog/modernwhatever hybrid.  "Hand of Stone" also gets special mention for the surprisingly thrashy riff it closes on.

Blood Mountain can basically just be summed up as "Mastodon".  That's it, this is what Mastodon had been building towards since their inception, and it just reached its apex here.  I'm still not entirely sure what genre to classify this as, as to my knowledge it's a style that started getting aped later by horrid modern bands that Liquid Metal likes to fellate.  Give it a listen, if only for the fact that it's one of the few definitively "modern" metal albums I can think of that both completely exemplifies the new sound of heavy music in the mainstream and is also not utter shit.  Mastodon managed to somehow strike gold here, and they were certainly on the upswing.  They'd hit their stride, surely they'd ride the momentum and creativity from this album into an illustrious career as both media darlings and legitimately good songwriters, right?


RATING - 88%


  1. Ah, OK.
    Mastodon is a metal band now?
    Ok, Ok, mate, got cha.

    1. Out of sheer morbid curiosity, what would you consider them to play on an album like Blood Mountain?